Congress Investigates Justice Department Firings

Last December, eight U.S. attorneys were fired by the Justice Department for unspecified reasons. Many observers believe that the firings were political in nature. This week, two separate Congressional committees have been holding hearings to determine exactly why the prosecutors were terminated and if the firings were warranted in the first place. If the Justice Department is implicated in making employment decisions based on politics and loyalty, a full-blown scandal will likely emerge from these hearings.

Six of the eight attorneys were subpoenaed by Congress this week, claiming that their firings resulted from heavy political pressure by Republican lawmakers who were unhappy with their legal decision-making and hoping to replace the ousted attorneys with individuals more sympathetic to their cause. In addition, a report filed by McClatchy Newspapers quoted two unnamed attorneys as saying that the Justice Department threatened to disclose potentially damaging information about them in order to keep them quiet about the situation.

“Even months after the firings, we still haven’t gotten straight answers from the Department of Justice, which changed its own story and admitted the firings weren’t based on job performance,” declared Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, Judiciary subcommittee chairwoman, according to Time magazine’s website. “The wheels are coming off the Bush Administration’s increasingly hollow defense of its decision.”

The ousted attorneys are telling Congress that they lost their jobs because they weren’t willing to “play ball” with Republican lawmakers. Seattle-region attorney John McKay believes he was sacked because he failed to be more aggressive in investigating the disputed election results that put Washington Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in office in 2004. David Iglesias of New Mexico alleges that Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans, pressed him to pursue indictments of Democrats accused of corruption in time for the 2006 elections. California’s Carol Lam was responsible for prosecuting Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham and associates, which ultimately cost Republicans a House seat.

Justice Department officials now contend that all of the attorneys were fired for performance-related issues; however, the Associated Press has not found evidence of performance deficiencies in internal Justice Department reviews that they have discovered. What’s more, the official who placed the termination phone calls to six of the eight attorneys abruptly resigned from his position on Monday of this week.

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